House of Commons Hansard #77 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vote.

Topics

Presence In Gallery
Private Members' Business

3:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Supply
Government Orders

June 12th, 2001 / 3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my friend from Elk Island on his normal loquaciousness and eloquence on the subject of empowering individual members through the private member's bill process.

If we were to have a vote for parliamentarian of the year, I am sure that the member for Elk Island would rank in the top two or three. I am sure members opposite would agree that he is one of the most diligent, thoughtful and hardworking and one of the most present of parliamentarians. He is always here and always participating in debate.

For that reason, it is really quite disturbing to learn, as the hon. member just instructed us, that in his several years in this place he has not once had an opportunity to have a private member's bill come forward and be deemed votable, or even debatable as I understand it, because of the absurd arbitrariness of the luck of the draw system we have here.

I would ask the hon. member if he could expound on that. Has he in fact brought forward private members' bills on the order paper? If so, why have they not been allowed to be debated in the House?

Second, I had an experience where I had a private member's bill on the non-controversial subject of opening the national archives for research purposes for access to the census records of 1901. Unfortunately, a government member, I am sure on the instruction of the minister responsible, moved an amendment to my motion that essentially gutted it and rendered it effectively meaningless. All of the work I had done, dozens of hours of work, and all of the tens of thousands of letters, phone calls, faxes and e-mails from Canadians expressing concern about the issue and support for the bill, was vitiated by a dilatory motion introduced by a government member and passed by the government, which had the effect of completely gutting and undermining my private member's motion.

I wonder if my colleague from Elk Island would also reflect on whether he believes that private members' bills, should they be deemed votable, should be protected from such dilatory legislative manoeuvrings on the part of the government.

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3:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his very kind statements at the beginning of his remarks. I do not know, perhaps I have some pathological problem, but I actually do enjoy debates. I always have. One of the greatest regrets I have is that too often in the House we are debating with empty chairs. It is really difficult to change hon. members' minds when we do not even know what their views are in the first place.

I would like to say just a few things about this matter. First, I have had a private member's bill on the list. Of course as the hon. member knows, if one has even just one bill, his or her name is on the list. My name has never been drawn.

I have had two private members' bills. One is urgent and it has never been drawn. It deals with the issue of dates. If we use only numbers for expressing dates, what does 2/3/1 mean? Is it February 3? Is it the 2nd of March? Is it the year 1? Is it the year 2002? Is it the year 2003? My bill is a very important bill and simply provides for removal of the ambiguity if people use numbers only. My second bill is a very important one, and that is the one that states Canadian taxpayers should not have to pay income tax on money they earn for the sole purpose of paying taxes. That has to do with exempting from income money people earn in order to pay their property taxes.

They are two very important bills. I have never had the opportunity to even debate them let alone get them voted on.

I would like to comment on his statement regarding amendments. I have often thought about this, not only on private members' business but also on supply day motions. One thing we started to do was split our time for our first speaker so our second speaker could make an amendment of little consequence to prevent the other side from making one.

I remember in our first term here there was an occasion that just blew my mind. We put a motion and the government made an amendment that stated “all the words after the word “that” be deleted and replaced by”, then it put in its own motion. It was our supply day motion but the government totally gutted it by deleting the whole thing.

Sometimes private members' motions have errors so it is necessary to make technical amendments. I would like to see a change so that the only amendments permitted for private members' business would be those that would be put by permission of the movers. In other words, if the mover can be persuaded that the motion will not pass, unless it is amended, because of a technical problem, then obviously that member would go along with the amendment and it would be in order. However, if the mover did not approve of it, then the amendment would be out of order and the original motion would stand.

I thank the hon. member for giving me the opportunity to speak about those two issues.

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4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I believe very strongly that this is one of the most important motions that has come before the House since I have been here. I believe this one measure, more than any other element of parliamentary reform, would empower individual MPs and hence their constituents.

Why do I say that? Because the whip, the Prime Minister's Office or the leader's office cannot control the private members' legislation or motions that members bring before this place. It is precisely those motions which can reflect issues that the political class and the centre of authority in the PMO on that side refuses to have brought forward for debate.

Many sensible bills come before this place, but many deal with issues which are not on the political agenda of the government or for whatever reason, on the political agenda of party strategists on the opposition side. No single step would do more to empower us than to give every MP at least one votable private member's bill. There is no good reason this ought not to happen because if each of the 300 MPs had a votable motion or bill that could easily be contained within the period of time for debate.

Here we are leaving the House two weeks before the parliamentary schedule indicates. There is plenty of time. We could extend hours, sit earlier, sit later or sit longer to debate issues which are of importance to Canadians and to this parliament, which are not brought forward on government orders.

I just want it on the record in questions and comments, and my colleague may want to reply, that on behalf of my constituents I firmly support this motion and I would hope that members opposite, as private members not as partisans, would accept this as a sensible incremental reform.

In closing, I understand that the so-called modernization committee had given near unanimous approval for this, except for one House leader for a minor party. That is unfortunate. I understand that even the government was commendably prepared to give support to a step of this nature to empower members through more votable private members' bills. Therefore, we are almost there. I would appeal to the House leader of that minor party to reconsider why it is that he is being a roadblock to major parliamentary reform in this measure.

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4 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I concur with what the member for Calgary Southeast has just said.

I think back during my years here and I had the questionable privilege for a time of being on that infamous subcommittee of private members. I always felt ill at ease because of the very subjective criteria that were used. There was really no way of properly evaluating bills that should be votable or should not. I understand that the criteria are now somewhat different but still very subjective.

I remember with fondness the leadership of the member for Mississauga Centre who at that time was chairperson of that committee. We were able, through some sleepiness on the part of the Liberals, to bring through some amendments to the way private members' business was conducted. One of the very significant ones of course was that the voting would begin in the back rows so that the members in the front row—

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4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

With unanimous consent.

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4:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Yes, Mr. Speaker, it was with unanimous consent when there were no Liberals in the House and we were able to sneak that through. It was a coup of major proportions.

The members in the back no longer had the luxury of waiting for the members in the front to vote to see how they should vote, so they actually had to think about it.

Recently we dealt with the issue of pay raises for members of parliament. In my speech on that topic I said that I had a motion to amend that particular bill. I suggested that all Liberal members should be eligible for a raise in pay if they could say what it was they voted against when they voted against my amendment.

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4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am always delighted to be received with such enthusiasm by my colleagues across the way. It is particularly interesting today how we are all just getting along so wonderfully well.

The debate we just listened to would have to be considered a pretty historic debate in this place and in this country. I would not even call it a debate. Perhaps it was a coronation, a very justifiable and proud moment for all Canadians. This place, which is the representative body for all Canadians, and the government have made the decision to confer our citizenship, something that we all believe in so deeply, to Nelson Mandela.

It is particularly interesting to see the carryover. I will try not to spoil the glow of euphoria which seems to be here because it is close to the break in session. However, there are some things I feel I must point out in relationship to this motion.

Let me also say right at the outset that I am delighted to vote in favour of the motion. I made that decision, contrary perhaps to the beliefs of some members opposite, before I discussed it with anybody in my caucus or in my government. I looked at it and said that it made sense.

I had one private member's bill in four years drawn out of the lottery, which is very frustrating. That one was drawn in the first three years of the parliamentary session, and I have yet to have another one drawn in the first year of the new session. In four years I have submitted eight or so for consideration. It is a lottery and I have never been very lucky at those kinds of things like gambling or buying lottery tickets, so it carries over to getting my private member's bill brought to the front.

When my name was drawn, the private member's bill I picked was one that would have created national standards for apprenticeship training from sea to sea to sea, in every province and in every territory. It seemed to make a lot of sense.

In fact we do have a program called the red seal program, which recognizes apprenticeship programs across the country. However it does not recognize the different categories of apprenticeship or provinces and the territories. People may be qualified to work in a particular trade in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, but they are not qualified to work in that same trade with that same training in Ontario or Quebec.

There are numerous examples of that. It just seemed to me to be awfully silly when one of the roles of the national parliament was to fund post-secondary education. Where we have perhaps gone off base is that we do not look at apprenticeship training as post-secondary education, and we should.

A ticket to practise as a carpenter, an electrician, a plumber, a pipefitter or any of those is as equally important and valuable, and in many cases more so, as a university degree. When people need a plumber, they do not care if that person has a university degree as long as he or she is capable of fixing whatever the problem happens to be.

It was astounding to find out that our standards were all over the map. I thought the best way to address this would be through a private member's bill, so I drafted the bill and put it forward. I waited patiently for my name to be drawn from the lottery and after three years it finally was.

I was then told that I had a five minute opportunity to go before a committee, which would then make a decision, after hearing from me, on whether my motion would be votable in the House of Commons. There was never a question about having a debate. As we know, a member is given the opportunity in private members' hour to come here and line up speakers.

By the way, I had support in just about every corner of this place, with the exception of the official opposition, because it transcended provincial boundaries. This is one of the fundamental problems when dealing with private members' bills.

The basic policy during the selection of private members' bills to be votable is that priority is given based on the fact that they should transcend purely local interest, not be couched in partisan terms and cannot be addressed by the House in other ways. They also should not be part of the government business or the normal, ongoing routine that the government might be undertaking.

In my case it was not. In fact I attempted to have the government adopt my private member's bill as government legislation. There were problems in the bureaucracy. Why? Even the bureaucracy thought that I was transcending provincial boundaries and interfering in the jurisdiction of the provincial governments.

Think about that. It is extremely frustrating. My private member's bill was a bill which, if this motion were in place, would have come on the floor of the House of Commons for a vote. In my opinion, notwithstanding opposition from the official opposition, I think it would have carried.

I am not asking that we take over apprenticeship training. I recognize that in the province of Ontario, for example, apprenticeship training works extremely well with our community colleges. It is a very successful and fundamental program. I believe more and more people should be, and I hope are, encouraging their sons and daughters to look at this as an opportunity for a different career.

Lord knows, we do not need more lawyers. We have plenty. We also know that only a certain segment of our society perhaps will be doctors. However we have a terrible shortage of skilled tradespeople within the construction industry across the country.

For the foreseeable future, the boom appears to be very lively for construction, whether it is something as fundamental as new housing or whether it is in infrastructure and trying to repair the damage which has occurred in our large communities as a result of the neglect in funding infrastructure over the last several years, as we all worship at the altar of tax cuts and reduced government. We have seen a deterioration in the quality of life as a result of all levels of government. The federal government, I admit, and provincial governments have cut back on the things that are fundamental and necessary to build good communities.

If my motion had been allowed to come here perhaps we would be seeing more people entering the trades and more qualified people. We would have had an opportunity to increase this priority and provide information to young people on their opportunities. The red seal program works to a certain degree and national building trades across the nation have instituted some good educational programs. However even they are having difficulty in getting their message across.

By the way, my private member's bill had the support in writing of many unions across the country that thought it was about time the national government established national standards.

Why would something as seemingly sensible as national standards for apprenticeship training fail to survive? It failed to survive because of the attitude, perhaps not partisan but certainly parochial, taken by members of the committee. I cannot, will not and would not name names because the process has been internal and I respect the fact that those people work on the committee. However the committee interfered in provincial jurisdiction.

I hope that by passing the opposition day motion we can move away from the attitude which permeates the caucus, what is left of it, of the official opposition. It has an attitude that if it is federal it is bad and that if it is Ottawa it is too big and interferes with what it wants to see happen in Alberta or British Columbia.

We all know that the weekly caucus meetings of the Alliance, the official opposition, are modelled after the show The Weakest Link . We understand that they are having a problem. We understand also that The Weakest Link appears to be their leader. I do not want to be unfair but I want to talk about the fact that the members have become very myopic.

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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Is the hon. member splitting his time? I think his time is up.

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4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

No. We are still on a 20 minute speech and 10 minutes questions and comments. The hon. member has another 10 minutes.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry you must put up with us for another 10 minutes but I will try to be gentle. One of the things that underlies the differences we have in this place is the constant criticism of the role of MPs. It is almost like a sport. It is done to try to denigrate the role of MPs.

It is my submission that we have spent too much time over the past several months dealing with certain faux pas on all sides. If we turn on Canada AM at six o'clock in the morning all we hear about is the latest group to leave the opposition caucus or perhaps the latest member on the government side who has said something he or she regrets or wishes to apologize for.

We as a body politic are being distracted on all sides of this place by the nonsense that is going on internally within our own caucuses and undermining our ability to represent our communities. I say that in a spirit of non-partisanship which I am not normally prone to do.

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4:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Moore Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. In a show of non-partisanship with the member from Mississauga, this is his opportunity. My point of order is this. Given that the supply motion will pass with the seemingly unanimous consent of all parties, I ask for unanimous consent of the House to make private members' Motions Nos. 293 and 361 votable.

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4:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent?

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4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.